On Jun 13 2022 by Grace W. Waweru

UK Introduces New Visa to Attract Recent Top Graduates – Should the U.S. Follow Suit?

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom announced a new visa called the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa for graduates of the world’s top universities. The HPI visa will give individuals who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from specific universities in the last five years permission to stay in the UK for at least 2 years without needing employment sponsorship. Graduates with a doctorate degree would be allowed to stay for 3 years.

This new visa is aimed at attracting foreign graduates from eligible universities by granting them the ability to move to the UK to begin employment or look for employment. While the HPI visa cannot be extended, visa holders can transition to another visa such as a work visa or permanent residency after the HPI visa expires. Individuals would also be able to bring with them dependent family members including their partner and children under 18 years.

While the success of the newly enacted visa scheme remains to be seen, many would wonder whether such a scheme could be considered by the U.S. government to potentially help with similar problems of retaining graduates in a global labor shortage and maintaining economic competitiveness.  It could certainly relieve some of the barriers to retaining international graduates of U.S. universities which the government has tried – yet failed — to address with legislation in recent years. For example, one of the obstacles faced by F-1 students is that there is no clear path to permanent residency after graduation. After their OPT or CPT time runs out, they need to transition to a dual intent visa such as an H-1B or L-1 visa which allows them to apply for a green card simultaneously. However, the H-1B visa (the most sought-after work visa in the U.S.) is capped at 65,000 annually under the regular cap and 20,000 annually for the advanced degree exemption (master’s cap). In the most recent fiscal year, the government received 483,270 registrants for the H-1B visa lottery and selected 127,600 registrations projected as needed to reach the fiscal year numerical allocations. This means nearly three-quarters of H-1B visa lottery registrants do not get selected. This has been the case for many previous years as well and has been growing year over year. Additionally, individuals can only apply for the H-1B lottery once a year. For the L-1 visa, students would need to be employed by a company’s location outside the U.S. for at least a year before they can transfer to the U.S. in L-1 status.

Many foreign national graduates from U.S. universities have to break away from their U.S. employers and leave soon after graduating if they are not selected in the H-1B visa lottery or are not able to transition to permanent residency by other means. The UK’S new HPI visa scheme could potentially attract these students away from the U.S. to the UK from eligible American universities.

If a similar visa were introduced in the U.S., it would increase opportunities for foreign national graduates to remain in the country, specifically from China and India who often have no recourse but to leave the U.S. after graduating due to the current green card backlog, if they are not able to transition to an H-1B or L-1 visa. If a similar visa to the UK’s HPI visa were introduced, these individuals would be able to remain employed after the expiration of their OPT employment authorization one to two years after graduating, giving them more opportunities to apply for the H-1B lottery. Additionally, for individuals from countries without a backlog in eligibility to apply for a green card, they would be able to potentially transition into becoming legal permanent residents via employer sponsorship after their HPI-type visa expires. It would also allow recent graduates the opportunity to pursue employment without the immediate worry of having to leave the U.S. just because they have not yet secured employment within months of graduating.

Similar reforms to the U.S. immigration system aimed at retaining our foreign national graduates have been introduced but never implemented. For example, just last year, immigration reform legislation was proposed in a bill named the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The bill aimed to address these barriers by allowing students in F-1 status with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees to directly apply for permanent residency upon graduation without having to enroll in the H-1B visa lottery or apply for an L-1 visa. The bill also proposed to allow F-1 students to apply for extensions of their OPT employment authorization documents in one-year increments while their green card process was pending. Additionally, the bill aimed at allowing F-1 students with doctorate degrees to not only be eligible to immediately apply for permanent residency but to also no longer be subject to country caps once they apply. This bill, however, has yet to be voted on since it was formally introduced in early 2021. This has been the case for almost any type of reform to our immigration system aimed at addressing skilled worker retention over the last several years.

Certainly, most of our lawmakers recognize the importance of retaining highly skilled individuals since numerous studies show that highly skilled foreign workers hired by U.S. employers are good for the economy and job growth. Other countries, not just the UK, are working on improving their accessibility to highly skilled workers from outside – Canada, for example, welcomed more permanent residents in 2021 than in any single year in the country’s history to address labor market needs. If the U.S. wishes to remain a world leader and a desirable destination for highly skilled talent, we must do better to retain foreign national graduates from our universities.  

Not only would an HPI-type visa scheme be beneficial to foreign national students in the U.S. wishing to remain in the country, but it would also benefit employers by allowing them to become familiar with newly graduated employees without immediately needing to take on the expense of sponsoring their work or green card to hire and retain them. This would very likely reduce employers’ hesitation to hire foreign national graduates just because they need sponsorship.  

Since the UK’s HPI visa scheme was only implemented days ago, many questions remain as to how exactly it will fair as an effective way to attract global talent to the UK. Since it is very attractive, will there end up being a crippling backlog if too many graduates from around the world apply? These questions remain to be answered but it is indeed a step in the right direction in getting the attention of the world’s best and brightest students.

 

The material contained in this article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.  An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation.  The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

Reprinted with permission from the June 13, 2022 edition of The Legal Intelligencer© 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. ALMReprints.com – 877-257-3382 – reprints@alm.com.